Yep, you read that right....New York's very own Blue Oyster Cult are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, with a big concert planned for late October at New York City's Best Buy Theater in Times Square. This got me to thinking of just how important this band has been over the years to the rock scene (and to my life in particular for over 30 years), and how it might be fun to take a little look back on their 'career of evil' so to speak.
Originally from Long Island, the little band previously known as the Soft White Underbelly released their self-titled debut album as Blue Oyster Cult in 1972 on Columbia Records, a nice score thanks to their manager Sandy Pearlman. Though it met with modest acclaim and sales, the album did feature some killer cuts, including "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll" and "Stairway to the Stars", both of which remain as fan favorites to this day and are featured at many if not all BOC shows. The line-up at this early stage was Donald 'Buck Dharma' Roeser, Eric Bloom, Allen Lanier, Albert Bouchard, and Joe Bouchard.
Tyranny and Mutation would follow, and here the bands sound started taking on a more metallic edge, though the music of BOC would forever be hard to pigeonhole as they regularly mixed psychedelia, hard rock, progressive rock, art rock, pop, heavy metal, and good old rock 'n' roll into their varied attack. This one though, released in 1973, was a heavy hitter (still to this day one of their heaviest albums), and contains the staples "The Red and the Black" and "Hot Rails to Hell", among many other strong cuts. At this time the bands 'leather and biker' image was really starting to catch on with the hard rock crowd who were no doubt into other popular acts on the scene like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin.
1974's Secret Treaties was up next, and took things to the next level as far as sales, overall musicality and songwriting growth. The band was now headlining their own tours and playing larger arenas, with a nice back catalog of strong songs growing that the band could add "Astronomy", "Dominance and Submission", and "Career of Evil" to. By this time, lead guitarist 'Buck Dharma' was being hailed as one of the top six string players on the rock circuit.
At this point, the band were really starting to take off, with 1975's On Your Feet Or On Your Knees live album going gold, and the subsequent Angels of Fortune, complete with the mega hit single and FM radio classic "Don't Fear the Reaper" and the deep album cut favorite "ETI (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)" cementing the bands status as a major attraction. This proved to be perhaps the 'pinnacle' of their success, as the follow-up Spectres, despite the classic heavy metal track "Godzilla", was somewhat of a letdown. They did however bounce right back as far as sales go with their highly successful 2nd live album , which painted a very good picture of just where BOC where at that stage of the game as a live act.
Like so many popular acts of the '70s, Blue Oyster Cult had their own sound which, when you heard any of their songs, you instantly knew it was them. With the formidable vocal talents of Bloom, Roeser, and Lanier, you had three guys who each had a distinctive style and combined they gave the band a heaping dose of variety. Lanier, in addition to adding his tasty keyboard parts, also played some guitar, so especially live you not only had the speedy lead work of Roeser, but at times Kanier joined Bloom on rhythm guitar making for an impressive 3 guitar army. Toss in the solid rhythm team of the Bouchard brothers and you had a band that excelled on many levels and continued to build on their unique sound.
Mirrors, released in 1979, had some solid tunes but was overall another disappointment, and lacked some of the heavier material that previous albums had. It wasn't until the Martin Birch produced Cultosaurus Erectus (this is where I jumped on board at age 14) in 1980 that the band dove back into their hard rock & prog roots, once again delivering their successful brand of 'intelligent metal' as some critics called it. "Black Blade" was the standout track here (among many actually, "Lips in the Hills", "Monsters" and "Deadline' just to name a few) and the band were thrown into the Black & Blue' tour with the revamped Black Sabbath on what was a great tour for the fans but both bands don't have many good things to say about the pairing to this day.
Another very strong release was 1981's Fire of Unknown Origin, which contained their first hit single in years in the form of "Burnin' For You" as well as perennial favorites "Joan Crawford" and "Veteran of the Psychic Wars". This album proved to be very popular with the older fan base, as well as young metal heads looking to latch onto another classic band. Their third live album, Extraterrestrial Live followed, again showing how well the band were live on stage, and this kick ass double album contained a nice selection of their greatest songs up to that point.
The rest of the story, well, this is where the band started to go through many changes. Members came and went, management changed, producers changed, the music changed, but for hardcore fans, there was still plenty of magic to be heard. Through it all, Bloom and Roeser remained, driving the band to decent, if unspectacular releases like The Revolution By Night (1983), Club Ninja (1985), and Imaginos (1988), all having their share of strong songs, though there certainly was a drop-off in overall quality. Imaginos was actually worked on for many years (based on a Pearlman poem) and contains some of their heaviest 'metal' if you will since the early part of their career. Sales were low however and it was clear that the bands best days were behind them.
BOC remained pretty quiet throughout much of the '90s, and other than touring they released the lone album Heaven Forbid to next to no attention, which is a shame as it's a pretty rocking affair and shows a band that can still deliver the goods. In 2001 they released the more textured and atmospheric Curse of the Hidden Mirror, which again rocks pretty hard and actually contains some great songwriting. That would remain the last recorded output by the band, as here we are in 2012 and the band is still going strong on the touring circuit despite not releasing any new material in 11 years. Today the line-up is Bloom, Roeser, Jules Radino (drums), Richie Castellano (keyboards/guitar/vocals) and Utopia/Meat Loaf veteran Kasim Sulton (bass).
For those who have never really followed the band, there's more to this NY act than "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Godzilla", as many of their songs combined intelligent, often sci-fi driven lyrical imagery with muscular but complex musical arrangements that had more to offer than a lot of hard rock/metal bands of the same time period. One only need listen to albums like Secret Treaties, Tyranny and Mutation, Cultosaurus Erectus, and Fire of Unknown Origin (my personal favorites) to hear a band that refused to be classified, and obviously put a lot of time and effort into their songs and albums. It's inspirational that to this day they can still tour and pack concert halls around the world, and their songs still sound fresh 40 years after they burst onto the scene. Are they heavy metal, prog, hard rock, or psychedelic rock? Who cares, Blue Oyster Cult is all that and more, one of rock and roll's true treasures.
And yes, I'll be there on October 28th in New York City. What's interesting is that, even after being a big fan of Blue Oyster Cult since 1980, I've only seen them once, in 1983, in Poughkeepsie, NY, with Uriah Heep as openers. Though I've had MANY opportunities, I just have never been able to catch them since, but that long streak will come to an end real soon.